Hundreds of families have been displaced by ground and aerial military operations by US and Afghan forces against insurgents in the Tora Bora area of Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, provincial officials told IRIN on 22 August. "At about 10pm the bombing started. We were only able to take our children out of the area,” one displaced man said. In a separate incident on 16 August NATO-led international soldiers killed five Afghan civilians and injured three others after their convoy was ambushed by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, a NATO press release said.
"Initial reports indicate over 400 families have been displaced as a result of military operations in Tora Bora," said Nooragha Zhuwak, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar.
Most displaced families have sought refuge with relatives in the nearby villages of Wazir, Piyada Khel and Agaam in the districts of Khogyani and Pacheeragaam, local authorities said.
US forces operating outside NATO command in Afghanistan have confirmed ongoing operations in the area which started on 20 August.
"This is a combined armed operation of Afghan and US forces to disrupt al-Qaeda and other extremist militants who were massing in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan," said Vanessa Bowman, a spokesperson for the US army.
No time to gather up belongings
Local officials said US forces had informed them about the military operation in advance, but displaced civilians say they knew nothing about it, and were unable to take their belongings with them.
At about 10pm the bombing started. We were only able to take our children out of the area.
Haji Zalmai, the administrator of Khogyani District, told IRIN that displaced families urgently needed shelter and food. "People cannot host displaced families at their houses for long," he said.
Some displaced families, meanwhile, are calling for an urgent ceasefire to allow them to return to their houses and collect their movable possessions, including livestock, clothes and kitchen appliances. Local officials, however, say they have no idea when the military operation will end.
According to a US army spokesperson, the operation in Tora Bora is "one part of a larger overall effort" which aims to improve security and stability in eastern Afghanistan.
Humanitarian relief, albeit limited, has already been distributed to some affected families.
US forces say they have supplied seven pallets of aid to displaced families - including beans, rice, cooking oil, stoves, charcoal and non perishable foods.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) has also begun a rapid assessment of needs to determine the quality and quantity of relief required.
"Once assessments are complete we will ask the UN, the ICRC and other aid organisations for their assistance," Mohammad Iqbal Shaheed, the president of ARCS in Nangarhar, told IRIN.
At least four wounded civilians received treatment at a medical facility in Khogyani District, government officials said.
Afghan and US forces say that so far no "substantiated" report of civilian deaths has been received.
"The targets were carefully chosen to pinpoint enemy positions and eliminate the likelihood of harming innocent civilians," said Bowman.
Photo: Gulam Rasool Hasas/IRIN
Most displaced have sought refuge with relatives in nearby villages
The impact of armed conflict on Afghan civilians has increasingly become a worrying issue for Afghans and the international community.
On 21 August, a representative of the UN Secretary-General for the rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin, warned that as armed conflict escalated in Afghanistan more civilians would be forced to flee their homes.
Since the beginning of 2007 over 1,000 civilians have died in the fighting, according to the Afghan authorities, and the UN estimates that in the past three years over 80,000 people have been displaced.
UN highlights conflict’s impact on civilians
"At about 10pm the bombing started. We were only able to take our children out of the area,” one displaced man said.
In a separate incident on 16 August NATO-led international soldiers killed five Afghan civilians and injured three others after their convoy was ambushed by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, a NATO press release said.